Rangers developed among humanity as a response to the presence of the giant-class humanoids as direct competitors for food, living space, and power within the worlds governed by the laws of the AD&D game. The deities of humanity saw fit to encourage certain persons to take up roles of guardianship, in essence entrusted with the safety and security of the human race. Rangers are intended to be self-reliant, strong, hardy, and possessed of the wisdom and intelligence to fully appreciate their roles as guardians. They operate in outdoor environments by and large, thus being familiar with normal woodcrafts like tracking, hunting, and camping. Rangers develop skills related to stealthy movement, spying, and so forth, so they may better serve as scouts, keeping tabs on local humanoid groups in the wilderness and in so doing, keeping their home communities and allied settlements informed of all happenings.
Tracking, however, does not a ranger make. One of the facts of life about being a ranger is that rangers are going to be on the hot spot, in the middle of some very savage fighting, on a fairly frequent basis. Humanoids don't like having humans around them, much less having humans spy on them; furthermore, rangers, in their roles as scouts, are somewhat more vulnerable since they prefer travelling in smaller groups. It is forbidden for more than three rangers to travel together, because when this happens rangers interpret this as meaning that they are leaving some other place undefended, and they will immediately try to spread out and cover the widest area possible. On top of this, rangers have (from their upbringing and studies) an intense dislike (to put it mildly) of all evil humanoids. Rangers are not just taught how to live off the land; they are taught to kill, and kill efficiently and quickly. They learn the vulnerable spots giant-class humanoids have, the ways in which they fight and wear their armor, and the best way to do battle with them so that the ranger, and not the humanoid, is still standing afterwards.
No bones are made about this; some rangers are fond of describing their jobs as going to exotic places, meeting interesting creatures, and killing them. However, it is understood that the purpose of combat is not to make oneself rich, famous, or fearsome. Combat is fought only if it cannot be avoided; humanoids, though, offer all sorts of opportunities for combat with their distinctly aggressive and often sadistic policies toward humanity. Rangers are therefore on call at all times in the defense of their homes, communities, and nations.
Elves, regardless of how they feel about humanoids, do not make good rangers because their empathy for life and living things runs counter to many of the teachings that rangers must absorb and learn to use. Elves put a lot of emphasis in combat on style, and cannot rid themselves of their distaste for killing any creature, even evil ones and even when its necessary for ones own protection (though they are still perfectly capable of fighting and killing, too). Rangers, whether lawful good, neutral good, or chaotic good, all share a high degree of dedication to their cause (from their loyalty to humanity as a whole, if lawful good, or from their personal standards, if chaotic good); elves see such intense commitment as grievous to a carefree and cheerful spirit. But elves appreciate rangers, because rangers regard them as allies and will usually try to help elves just as they help humanity.
Half-elves may become rangers since they usually inherit at least part of their human parents viewpoint on life, watering down their elven attitudes considerably. They don't gain the high levels humans do as rangers because they are slightly smaller and less effective in hand-to-hand fighting, and because they still have some of their innate elven distaste for bloodshed in them.
There doesnt seem to be any particular reason why elves, especially sylvan elves, shouldn't have a knowledge of how to track wild game. Human or elven player characters with secondary skills of Forester, Hunter, and possibly Trapper might reasonably be allowed a limited skill in tracking animals or persons, around 20-50% in accuracy, in outdoor (and maybe indoor) environments. But the other skills rangers have would not necessarily apply.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
As another piece of the puzzle regarding rangers and their place in D&D, I offer up a lengthy quote from issue #66 of Dragon (October 1982). The quote comes from the "Sage Advice" column. As many know, I was never actually a big fan of the column, which I felt contributed in various ways to the notion that the surest way to resolve any rules questions was to contact TSR rather than just make up a solution for oneself. The quote does nothing to dispel that concern of mine, but it nevertheless does shed further light on how, even as late as 1982, the guys at TSR saw the class.